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Spirit of '55
Blurb and Sample Chapters
My book 'Spirit of '55' has been published by Pitch Publushing it is available to buy from Watersone's, WH Smiths, Amazon and the Warington Wolves Club shop. It has reached 2nd place in the Waterstones 'Our Chart'.
To buy online you can follow any of these links: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/rob+watson/spirit+of+2755/9586661/
Here is a brief synopsis and sample chapters:
At the start of the 2009 season Warrington RLFC reach the nadir of their long term underachievement. One fan had enough, writing an open letter to the players and coaches questioning their sense of duty and commitment signing it ‘Spirit of ‘55’ – a reference to the year the club were last champions. The letter was published by the local paper, since then results dramatically improved, back to back challenge cup wins followed by a league leader’s shield, but still no championship. The same fan follows the team’s quest to be champions in 2012. Now they have the spirit to match their skills, but are they cursed by the Ghost of 55? As well as the match reports there are chapters on other sporting ‘curses’ that have been broken and how it happened. Complete with several comments on the game itself laced with ‘terrace humour’ and the eye of a coach the book builds to the thrilling climax of the play-offs where one team will achieve the ultimate glory, but will it be Warrington? All sports fans are cursed with hope, even when there is a complete lack of expectation and there is an enormous weight of history against them. This book captures that feeling of hope that can be tortuous and thrilling in equal measure.
It all ended in tears. Fans cried, players cried. It had all looked so good, finished top of the table, won more games than any other team, scored more points, conceded fewer and finished top of the table for the first time since 1973. Surely the fifty six year wait to be champions would be over, with a semi final to be played at home and Saints or Wigan in the final, both of whom Warrington had beaten home and away in the two league meetings during the season. Leeds Rhinos had other ideas. If you learn one thing from being a Warrington Rugby League fan for the last thirty years or so, it would be to expect to be disappointed. So despite all the logic, none of us can claim to have been completely shocked by the outcome of that thrilling semi final on Friday 30th September 2011.
The game deserved a better ending, a thrilling 24-24 tie being broken in the last two minutes by a penalty. Richie Myler rushed out and charged down Kevin Sinfield’s drop goal. Of course he was offside, I’d venture to say that if you look at all the times in the history of the game that a drop goal has been blocked, then the player doing the blocking had been offside the vast majority of the time. The big difference this time was that the officials actually gave the penalty in that situation, something about as frequent as an appearance from Hallet’s Comet. People wondered why Lee Briers hadn’t gone for the drop goal a little earlier in the game, the main reason being that Danny Buderus was in position to charge down any attempt, a position he’d gotten himself into by being at least as offside as Myler had been. Despite Kevin Sinfield’s excellent success rate throughout his goal kicking career, a rate that seems to get even better whenever a game is on the line, no doubt many Leeds fans were still nervous, hoping and praying he’d manage to knock over the relatively easy kick at goal. Warrington fans would’ve had no such doubts, they knew with the certainty of the outcome of an James Bond tussle with a Russian henchman, that Sinfield was always going to kick that goal.
Simply blaming the officials for the result is pathetically ridiculous, as with any sports match several factors dictated the outcome, perhaps the most alarming being that Warrington looked as if they had lost the ability to win close games. They may have actually suffered from their excellence throughout the season, which saw so many dominant displays and massive winning margins. Flip side being that when it came to a match when they couldn’t assert their dominance, they didn’t seem to know how to win, maybe they didn’t even believe they could win. It looked very much as if they had turned themselves into ‘flat track bullies’, through no great fault of their own. Like a dominant powerhouse of heavyweight boxing champion, who had got used to destroying his challengers inside a few rounds. When somebody not only stands up to him, but also has great skill, the bully isn’t capable of finding a way to win the fight. Warrington had become Sonny Liston and George Foreman, for one glorious night, Leeds morphed themselves into Muhammed Ali. The fact that Warrington had chosen their challengers only served to rub a little more salt into the wound.
Warrington hadn’t played close enough to their best, when it mattered most. Performing at your best when it most matters is the greatest thrill for any sports person, conversely not managing it can hurt, enough to bring grown men to tears. Often in sport though you have to lose something before you can win it. Many tennis players don’t win their first Grand Slam final, even more golfers don’t win the first time they are in contention in the final round of a major. Before Manchester United’s dominance of the last twenty years, they blew a league title in spectacular style in 1992.
Two Challenge Cup successes and a League leaders shield in three consecutive years had understandably created a great optimism within the club. A look through the history books would tell you that optimism was misplaced. If one stat best sums up Warrington’s quest to be champions, to win when it matters most, it is the fact that they finished top of the table in 1973, the last season where the champions were decided by play-offs before the reincarnation of the play-offs in 1998. Of course Warrington lost in the semi finals of those play-offs in 1973. The following season when it was decided that whoever finishes top will be champions, and the play-offs will just be a little end of season tournament to generate some extra gate money for clubs. Warrington finish eighth, and yes you’ve guessed it, they win the play-offs.
Only three times have ‘The Wire’ been Champions, 1947, 1954 and 1955, one glorious, immediate post war period, where they seemed immune from any Championship ‘curse’. Maybe try scoring legend Brian Bevan was just too good to be affected by any such curse. Warrington have played in every season of top flight Rugby League, making them the poster club for mediocrity.
Until the Challenge Cup wins in 2009 and again the following year, mediocrity would have been just about the best compliment you could’ve given the club. More often than not during the wait for a major trophy between 1974 and 2009, ‘laughing stock’ would’ve been more accurate. The cup wins and climbing up the league ladder has made it fun to be a Warrington fan, and even allowed us to having bragging rights over fans of more illustrious rivals. As the fans put it so eloquently, “We’re not Wanky anymore”. Yet still the ghost of 1955 lurks, a championship win without Bevan, Gerry Helme and Harry Bath in the team still elude Warrington. As sporting curses go it’s not quite as long as that of the Boston Red Sox, or Lancashire County Cricket Club, but it’s of those proportions. The Sox finally ended the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ by winning baseball’s World Series in 2004, and Lancashire finally ended their wait since 1934 for an outright country championship in 2010. With the squad and coach at their disposal, if Warrington don’t end their search for a title soon, then the club truly will start to feel cursed.
The brutal simplicity of sport means that it doesn’t matter how much you ‘deserve’ to win anything, each sport has its own scoring system and set of rules, whichever team or individual does best according to the criteria of that scoring system will win the contest. Whoever wins the contests that really matter will be handed the ultimate prizes. It doesn’t matter how much the players, staff or fans deserve success, or which team has been waiting to be champions for the longest, only one team can be champions and that will be decided by the outcome on the pitch and nothing else.
During 1955 Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden were Prime Minister, Dwight Eisenhower was President of America, ‘Rock around the Clock’ became the first Rock and Roll song to be number one in the UK, James Dean was staring in East of Eden and Rebel Without a cause, Jack Fleck produced one of the biggest golf upsets in history by beating Ben Hogan in a play-off to win the US Open, American teenagers were hanging out in diners recklessly knocking back one milkshake after another. If you need any more of an idea of just how long ago it was, then picture or watch the film ‘Back to the Future’, that November when Marty McFly is on stage playing ‘Johnny B Goode’, is the last November Warrington have been able to call themselves champions.
This book will follow The Wire for their 2012 season, as they aim to break the curse one more time. Perhaps in a summer when many in this country will be obsessed with the London Olympics and the England football team’s latest spectacular piece of underperforming at a major championship, Warrington will write their own piece of sporting history. A lifetime of supporting them tells me not to get carried away with any great expectations, but then again one of the great things about sport is it allows you to get carried away on a great wave of hope and emotion. With that in mind and the continued improvement of the teams performances over the last three years, the fact that the bulk of last year’s squad is still intact and that the team will be even more hungry for success after last season’s disappointment my hopes are sky high, but of course I’ve packed a parachute just in case.
Fleeting triumphs and near misses
For the record Warrington have been Champions on three occasions, in 1948, 1954 and 1955. For one glorious spell they were one of the dominant teams in the land. All three Championship winning teams featured the great winger Brian Bevan, the man who has scored more Rugby League tries than anybody else. Other club legends second rower Harry Bath and scrum half Gerry Helme also featured in all three teams, but is undoubtedly Bevan who had the biggest single impact on this glorious period. Maybe the lack of a championship since 1955 should be known as the curse of Bevan, but Championship failures can be traced back to a time when Bevan was still in the team.
Having won back to back title in the 1954 and 55, Warrington were hot favourites to win a third successive Championship in 1956. Warrington had finished top of the league and back in those days the play-offs were a much simpler affair, only the top four teams qualified for a straight forward knock out semi final and final format. Finishing top of the table meant Wire would host the fourth place team in the semi final. That team was Hull and they weren’t given much chance by anybody of stopping Wire from reaching their third consecutive final at Maine Road. Not only did Hull win, but they dominated to shut out Warrington 17-0. They couldn’t have known it at the time but that was the first instance of Warrington seemingly being unable to win a title after 1955, no matter how good a side they had or how close they would get.
That shocking defeat to Hull signalled the start of a slump for Wire, the next four seasons seeing them finish no higher than seventh. In 1960-61, with Bevan still in the team, the put together a workmanlike team capable of grinding out results, although the magic of the mid 50s was missing they still managed to finish second and this time reach the championship final that was played against Leeds at Bradford’s Odsal stadium. Playing Leeds in Bradford sounds suspiciously like giving up home advantage in a Championship final to me, and Wire were outclassed by Leeds who won 25-10.
The rest of the sixties saw Warrington embrace mediocrity. In the seventies, Alex Murphy as player coach inspired a revival that took them well away from mediocrity. 1973 saw them finish top of the table for the first time since 1956, the play-off curse continued as they lost in the first round to eventual champions Dewsbury. The following year saw them win so many trophies that you got the impression if they entered the Grand National that year they would’ve won that too. Of course the trophy that was missing was the Championship. It having been decided that the top of the table team would be crowned champions, Warrington emergence into the kings of knockout Rugby League that year didn’t allow them to finally get their hands on the championship. An eighth place finish meant that even though they managed to win the play-offs, it was the Wembley triumph in the Challenge Cup that was the biggest prize they scooped that year.
1986 saw another triumph in the play-offs, over top of the table Halifax in the final, that victory did nothing to take the Championship from Halifax though. In the era of top of the table being crowned champions Wire did come agonisingly close to the ultimate prize on one occasion. Johnathan Davies proved to be one of the club’s most inspired signings ever, from fierce rivals Widnes after they had encouraged him away from his international Rugby Union career with Wales. In 1993-4 Davies had his best season in Rugby League, providing the creative spark to make an excellent, hard-working and thoroughly well organised side into genuine title contenders. This was during an era when to suggest Wigan were a dominant force would be a gross understatement. At the time Wigan were the only full time professional club, not surprisingly they tended to win all the major prizes. It was a bit like watching a top class heavyweight be allowed to box in the middleweight division. On this occasion though not only did Wire keep pace with them but so did Bradford. All three teams finished level on points, of course Wigan had the better points difference and the Championship trophy to go with it. For us Wire fans who were around at the time the most distinctive memory of that season is the game against Wigan at our old Wilderspool ground. It turned out to be a classic top of the table tussle with defences on top. Wigan were hanging onto a lead before Forster slide over in the corner to level the scores at 6-6 and send the ‘Zoo’ wild with celebrations. We should’ve known they’d be a twist in the tail. Just before the hooter a soft penalty was given away, or completely made up depending on how bias the Wire fan you are talking. Just as we are thinking that the subsequent attempt at goal would be right on the limit even for the master goal kicker Frano Botica, the referee hears some backchat and marches Wigan ten metres nearer to the posts. Now it’s well within ‘The Boot’s’ reach and with a chilling inevitability the ball sailed through the uprights for a dramatic win that would ultimately win the championship for Wigan. As the penalty and subsequent 10metre march down the pitch were given, one Wire fan in the Bevan Stand summed up our feelings as he jumped up out of his seat and shouted ‘He’s given it to bloody Wigan again’, with a dramatic waving of his arm he was off, not waiting around to witness the executioner lower the guillotine.
After that season Warrington never again looked like winning the Championship in the top of the table being Champions format. The launch of the play-offs in 1998 succeeded in one way right from the start. It gave the fans of the middle of the road clubs like Warrington that chance to dream again. We’d all but given up on having a team capable of finishing top. But we could envisage finishing in the top five. From there any team could get hot and win four games in a row to be champions, couldn’t they? Of course any time fans of a mediocre sports team get their hopes up, they know deep down they are ultimately going to be crushed. It wasn’t until the play-offs stretched to six teams that Wire even got into them, and so far the play-offs have given us a lot more pain that pleasure.
The first time Wire reached the Super League play-offs was in their last season at Wilderspool in 2002. After steering his home town club away from relegation the year before coach Paul Cullen made sure they left the old stadium with pride. Winning on the last day of the season was something I missed, I can clearly recall being in Atlanta with my Mum and Dad, staying in a house that belonged to a friend of my Mums. Mum phoned my sister to catch up on the results, as I listened to one half of their conversation it took me a little while to get complete confirmation that they had made the six. It was a mixture of shock and delight, as the surreal feeling of Warrington being in the play-offs hit home from around three thousand miles away. Then I had the difficult task of explaining my delight and shock and the Rugby League play-offs to my Mum’s American friend, a task I gave up on less than half way through.
At that stage it was very much a thrill to simply be in the play-offs, but it didn’t take long for the dreamer in me to be thinking along the lines of……….we play at Wigan in the first round and we always keep it pretty close against them and we’ve even beat them a few times recently, if we beat them we’d only be playing the fourth or fifth place team next and they’re not unbeatable by any means, then we’d be into a semi-final and once you get to the semi-final stage anything can happen……….. Clearly my daydreaming can be just as ridiculous on either side of the Atlantic. We were still in America when all too predictably Wire put up a brave, but ultimately losing display in the first round at Wigan.
In 2005 the team had improved enough to not just be scraping into the play-offs on the last day, but to be in them comfortably and ultimately finish fourth in the table. Just when we thought we had used up all the reasons to get carried away and believe that this ‘could be our year’, the club made the most outrageous signing in Wire History. As with most sport the debate about the greatest ever player is ultimately just that, a debate where there can be no clear winner. Anybody discussing Rugby Leagues greatest ever player in any sort of depth, would be remiss not to give Andrew Johns a mention. So when Warrington signed him on a short term contract at the end of that season, despite all the disappointments in the past, we just couldn’t help but get carried away again. We had a team that was capable of finishing fourth and we’d just added the best player in the world, playing in the crucial role of half back, what set of fans wouldn’t have got carried away.
There were two league games left to play when John’s made his debut, the first was played in front of a packed house, the club could’ve easily sold the stadium out twice over, such was the clamour to see the great man. Add to that the fact that we were playing reigning champions Leeds in Rugby League world it was definitely the place to be that night. Clearly even legends can be affected by nerves as Johns’ hands were shaking so much he could hardly place the ball on the kicking tee for the opening kick-off. Eventually he managed it and from his towering kick off Rob Burrow of Leeds was clattered by Wire’s Aussie prop Chris Leikvoll and Burrow lost the ball. From the first play from the subsequent scrum Warrington scored a try in the corner by Henry Fa’Fili. Because of the occasion the atmosphere was already explosive, that opening well and truly lit the fuse. The rest of the night was one of the best atmosphere’s ever at that stadium, possibly the best, as Wire went on to record a reasonably comfortable win against Leeds.
The following game was a trip to Hull FC, by a strange quirk of fate it was already decided that Hull would be our opponents the following week in the first round of the play-offs. One thing was yet to be decided though, that being who would have home advantage the following week. Wire would need to win to claim the home comforts for their next encounter. I decided to make a rare trip across the Pennines, such was the lure of seeing Johns play as much as possible for Warrington. My car had other ideas though, as on the M62 with two fellow fans on board, the engine over heated and we had the ignominy of being on the hard shoulder with a smoking car, to make it absolutely clear I don’t mean smoking in any sort of good, young person’s slang way. To make it that bit more embarrassing not only did my car not get us to Hull, it didn’t even get us past Birchwood or out of Warrington. At least that meant we had time to be picked up by whichever roadside recovery agency I was aligned with at the time, and still get to a bar in town to watch the game. It turned out to be a game that Warrington won fairly convincingly. Clearly Johns was the missing piece in the jigsaw, and what a piece, no curse would be powerful enough to overcome this man.
The Hull game the following week was supposed to be merely the first step in a hope filled long run in the play-offs, maybe we wouldn’t quite win the whole thing, but we were definitely going to get close. Weren’t we? No we weren’t. Hull battered us from the start. Just before half time with Hull 24-0 up I heard one of the most optimistic questions I’ve ever heard, an fan nearby wondered aloud: ‘What happens if it’s a draw?’. We just can’t help dreaming.
The following season Wire were generally a little disappointing in the league campaign, just about being good enough to finish sixth, claiming the last play-off spot, that meant the first round of the play-offs was a knockout trip to Leeds, a team that had reach the last two Grand Finals. We travelled across the Pennines in the coaches that were paid for by the club owner Simon Moran. Travelling with barely hope, let alone expectation. We packed into the terraced away end at Headingley, slowly but surely the best Wire performance of the season was played out in front of us. Keeping it close was excellent enough in itself at least that meant our long trip wouldn’t be completely wasted. The longer the game went on we found ourselves daring to dream once again. With ninety nine seconds left Briers knocked over a trademark drop goal to put us one point in front, a lead we just about managed to hang onto. It was the club’s first play-off victory in the Super League era and one of the most dramatic wins in Wire history, with us unashamedly celebrating on the terraces.
On the coach trip on the way back we were pondering who our second round opponents would be, for once this pondering didn’t include any assuming we would win our game because we already had won it. Super League powerhouses at the time Bradford, were playing a competitive Salford team, whoever won would host us in the next round. Plenty of people on the coach showed a blatant disregard for Bradford’s recent history in the play-offs and were confident we would be making the shorter trip to Salford. Those people were proved wrong and we faced a very similar, cross Pennine trip, this time to Bradford’s legendary Osdal stadium.
In a season when of all the established Super League power houses, only St Helens were having a good season by their standards, we easily fell into the trap of getting carried away once again. We only needed wins against Bradford and then Hull to book a place in the Grand Final. Bradford weren’t as strong as they had been in previous years and although Hull had be good enough all season to finish second in the table, they didn’t have too much play-off pedigree. Those two wins would see us face St Helens in the final, a team we hadn’t beaten for over six years, but of course, anything can happen in a final can’t it? They were the sort of thoughts going through most fans head as we went along the M62 in our convoy of coaches once again.
Wire kept it close again and when two tries in quick succession gave us the lead in the second half, we were jumping up and down on someone else’s terraces in delirium, just like the previous week. By this stage there was no stopping our dreaming, in our head not only had we already beaten Bradford, but defeating Hull was a mere matter of course all that we weren’t sure of was exactly how we would beat St Helens at Old Trafford. Would it be comfortable or virtue of a dramatic last minute score? Of course our dreams were rudely interrupted, not by St Helens, or even Hull, but by Bradford who showed all their class and experience to grind out a win and end our season. Our next play-off campaign was over barely before it started, a humbling and embarrassing defeat in the first round in France against Catalans.
In 2009 we really couldn’t care less about the play-offs, because completely surreally not only had we gone to Wembley, but we had won there. We had been waiting since 1974 for one of the two Major Trophies in the game and at that point we didn’t mind at all which one it came our way. Such was the severity of the poorness of Wire’s start to that Cup winning season, that despite a strong second half of the campaign, they didn’t even make the top eight play-offs. It is since this Cup win and the one the following year that my desire to seen Warrington finally be crowned Champions greatly increase. Until then I had spent all my life dreaming of seeing them win something and the Cup had always been the more likely of the two. As the last few years have gone by the team have been running out of excuses and reasons not to win the Grand Final.
In 2010, they finished third, but they had comfortably retained their Challenge Cup, so now they were establishing themselves as the modern day cup kings, experts in knock out Rugby League and that’s what the play-offs are all about. By this stage I am starting to believe that if Warrington play their best then nobody can beat them. In 2010 two teams managed to beat them in the play-offs. Firstly St Helens gave them a lesson in how to play in the rain, then Huddersfield produced an upset win at the Halliwell Jones stadium. I managed to miss both games, first of all I was on a youth work residential in the Lake district, battling the phone signal to get text updates from home on the score at St Helens. The following weekend I was climbing Snowdon and then singing Karaoke with some friends, again having the heartbreak lessened by only seeing the score via text rather than having every second played out before my eyes. I believe the crushing losses hurt a lot less when you don’t see them for yourself.
That brings us up to 2011, after a crushing 47-0 defeat of Huddersfield in the first round, following on from topping the table, our hopes and never been higher. Then of course came that most crushing of loses to Leeds. I do have to add one more thing about the win against Huddersfield. After the match, Wire were presented the league leaders shield, several Huddersfield fans not only stayed behind to applaud the Warrington players, they also unfurled a giant banner in their own colours, but it had the message ‘WELL DONE WIRE’ written on it. Never had I been prouder to be a Rugby League fan.
One of the reasons for the reintroduction of the play-offs was to keep more teams interested for longer and giving them something to play for, for at least the majority of the season. The flip side of that is that those hopes of fans get built up so much more than they used to do, therefore they get crushed so much more often. When you had to finish top to become champions, there was usually only about four teams in with a shout each season, even the most deluded fan of another team would be hit by reality within the first ten games. Now every fan knows the facts that if their team make the top eight then at the most they only have to win four games in a row to be champions. Winning four games in a row against four of the best teams in the league, even away from home, is so tantalisingly possible in the mind of any fan with the merest hint of dreamer in them. So as long as Warrington continue to have at least a decent side, every year will be looked upon as the one where they can finally end the long wait.
Broken Sporting Curses - Boston Red Sox
Warrington are far from alone in being a sports team that have suffered a long wait to win a championship. Several clubs in many sports have felt that they were cursed. With team sports the wait can be stretched out over so much longer than in the case of an individual. Every summer from around 1996, for about ten years, the British public would look forward to Wimbledon that little bit more than they had done for years, because there was genuine hope that a Tim Henman could win the men’s singles title. That hope never quite became expectation and certainly never became reality. At the time it did seem like a long time, but compared to teams sports that have been around for over a hundred years an individual chasing a dream for ten years is barely more than a blinking of an eye. Also when the individual retires, whether successful or not, the wait is over, because fans know the player can’t possibly win it anymore.
Another slight oddity when it comes to sporting ‘curses’ is that rather than clubs who have never won the title, it is those that have haven’t won one for a long time that seem to feel the weight of history more. As if they are trying to emulate their predecessors at the club, who have shown it is possible for that club to be champions. Fans expectations of current players do tend to be shaped somewhat by the exploits of previous players. If they hadn’t seen such riches, they could live with being poor.
Possibly the most famous curse in sport is the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, that was supposed to be to blame for the Baseball team Boston Red Sox for not winning the World Series since 1918. The story behind the curse begins when they sold their star player Babe Ruth to their arch rivals New York Yankees. By 1918 the Red Sox were the dominant team, having won four out of the previous seven World Series, whilst the Yankees were yet to register their first series win. At the end of the 1919 the Red Sox owner sold Ruth to the Yankees, to raise funds to put on a Broadway show. In the following eighty four years, the Red Sox couldn’t muster up another series win, whilst the Yankees racked up twenty three wins. To make matters worse for the long suffering Red Sox fans, the format of the competition meant that the Red Sox would often have to beat the Yankees in the their quest to win the big one, and it was often the Yankees themselves that ended Boston’s dreams for another year. Books have been written about the subject including ‘Breaking the Curse’ and ‘Faithful’ – a fans eye view on the 2004 season as two fans, one of them Horror writer Stephen King, tell the story of the season through their journal entries and correspondence between each other. Films have been made about it, including ‘The Perfect Catch’, an American version of ‘Fever Pitch’. The whole situation has been used as a metaphor as people apply their own theory on Boston’s inability to win when it counts most and apply it to other situations in life. This curse was introduced to a whole new audience when it featured in the smash hit television series LOST. One of the lead characters father would often tell him, ‘that’s why the Red Sox will never win the series’, a reference to some things being meant to be and decided by fate.
Finally in 2004 the curse was ended and in the most dramatic and history defying way imaginable, if someone had written the story it would never have seen the light of day, for being too unrealistic. In what we would simple call a semi final, the Red Sox were once again up against the Yankees, in a best of seven match series. After losing the first three matches, a freaky play in the fourth game leads to a victory and they go on to become the first team to ever come from three matches down to win a seven match series, leaving the Yankees and the rest of America stunned. Still they hadn’t won the world series yet and most people were still expecting them to somehow blow it again when they came up against St Louis in the World Series match, despite their heroic comeback against the ‘Evil Empire’. Clearly this particular bunch of individuals were either too mentally strong or simply too good at baseball to be affected by any curse, and they stretched their winning run to eight games to sweep the Series 4-0 and well and truly end the curse. The character in LOST was busy being lost on a mysterious island whilst all this was going on, and another character shows him the footage of the series win to show to him that he does have control over his own destiny and fate can be fought.
The phrase ‘Curse of the Bambino’ was only coined by a writer Dan Shaugnessy in his book of the same name, published in 1990, it wasn’t until then that Red Sox fans had something to call their pain. Bizarrely enough the World Series winners the following year were the Chicago White Sox, who had waited since 1917 for a world series win, one year before the Red Sox’s previous win. In 1919 eight Chicago players were convicted of accepting bribes to throw the World Series match. Maybe ‘Curse of the Bribes’ didn’t quite have the same ring to it, for whatever reason the story behind the Chicago White Sox’s even longer wait for a world series win, didn’t seem to create a legend to anything like the same extent that the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ did.
When you start talking about waits over eighty five years, you know there have been several fans that waited their entire life to see their team become champions, and never got to witness it. Just think for a moment about how the world changed between 1918 and 2004 and you begin to understand the full extent of the wait.
Lesson to be learned from the breaking of this curse:
You have control over your performance, past performances do not have to be an indicator of future performance. A group of players and coaches can change the identity of a club.
First Round of Play-offs – St Helens at home – 15/9/12
So that’s what a lead balloon going down sounds like. For about an hour it threatened to turn into a classic play-off tussle, two top teams in a closely fought contest. Both teams had managed to create one try each, the difference on the scoreboard was there because Warrington had gifted St Helen’s another try and Saints had given nothing in return. In the back of my mind was the thought that Wire hadn’t had their trademark burst of 15-20minutes, that burst that has so often been the difference in matches this season, when they score three or four unanswered tries. It either never materialised or Saints managed to withstand it.
Early in the second half Wire did crank up the pressure and had several attacks on the Saints line. We were waiting for the flood gates to open, they did, only at the other end. An excellent break by Lomax down the Saints right lead to a try that not only saw the end to Warrington’s period of pressure, but turned out to be the first of a few St Helen’s tries as they started to rack up the points.
In a way the Wire tasted their own medicine, in that the game throughout was very even, if you just watched the action to both 20metre lines. This one was one the very rare occasions where Wire were outplayed at both ends of the pitch. St Helens defended their line with great enthusiasm and organisation, and gradually picked holes in Warrington’s goal line defence.
I honestly think the spirit was still in the Wire team, seeing them celebrate keeping St Helen’s out in the South-East corner late on in the first half, as if they had just scored a match winning try, was a glaring example of that. They would support each other after they made a mistake and congratulate each other after doing something good. It was simple a case that too many of them had a bad day. Many of the crowd seemed to be getting on their back at the end, lots of the handling errors came when they were chasing the game. One thing’s for sure with this team that they will try to do whatever they think gives them the best chance to win the game, even if they know there is a great chance that option will result in them suffering a bigger defeat and some embarrassment. Personally I prefer that to a team who plays out the percentages, with no true intention of winning, just so they can save face. One day they will pull off a miracle come from behind victory and all those extra margins of defeat will be worth it.
It’s amazing how one bad performance can destroy the optimism of so many fans around me. Three Challenge Cup wins in four years, finishing in the top three in the league for the last three years and consistently beating their main rivals over the last two years seemed to have been all forgotten in the space of a few minutes. Instead some people have decided to focus on play-off failures in previous seasons. Unfortunately it does seem to be the case that most human’s default setting is for negativity and pessimism. Hopefully the players and coaches don’t share this setting.
Now the team is staring down the barrel of being stuck with one of the labels any sports star least wants, that label being one of a ‘choker’. To suggest a team or an individual doesn’t perform their best when it matters is one of the deepest cuts a sports star can receive, because it fundamentally goes against everything about them that makes them so competitive. From previous seasons Wire already have this reputation from fans of other clubs and maybe a few of their own fans. What they have to remember is reputations can change. In his early days Nick Faldo had a reputation for letting golf tournaments slip through his fingers, so much so that the American press began to label him ‘Foldo’. By the end of his career he had made a mockery of that name and was universally acknowledged as one of the great pressure players of all time. As a young player Roger Federer got the reputation of being a talented player without the mental toughness to win a major championship, so far he has proved that farcical assessment wrong on seventeen occasions. Manchester United undoubtedly choked in trying to win the league title in 1992, they could’ve continued to play the role of chokers as they looked for their first title in 26years, instead they became the team that all others feared being around the lead towards the end of a season. On the last day of the football season last year Man City looked like living up to their reputation of being a joke club one more time, until two goals in stoppage time fought the huge weight of history and started to build a new reputation. In Rugby League until the last few years Leeds were known as the ‘glamorous’ big city club that would virtually never win the championship. Their modern day players had to battle to create a new reputation, now they are the team that all the others desperately want to see eliminated from the play-offs.
Reputations come about from actions, and actions can change and actions are under your control. The good news from Saturday night’s game was that Wire picked the best day in the play-offs to have a bad day. Players need to think how bad that defeat felt and times it by about a thousand to imagine how bad an elimination from the play-offs will feel. They can take their feelings from winning the challenge cup and times them by about ten to imagine how good it will feel to win the ultimate prize at Old Trafford, a prize that so many are saying they’re not capable of winning.
The situation hasn’t changed too much from last week, Wire still need to win three consecutive games to be champions. Now they have to set about building a new reputation, starting with next weekend’s home game, hopefully played out in front of a full house of supportive fans. Ending fifty-seven years of pain was never going to be easy. No destination truly worth getting to has an easy journey to get there. You have to believe before you can achieve.
Final Score: Wire 6-28 St Helens